After Edward Snowden blew the lid on governments spying on their citizens’ computers in 2013, I read in the Guardian that the Russian Government had decided to respond by switching to using manual typewriters for all their important documents.
At the time, I found this rather surprising as the Russians must have been aware that it’s fairly easy to bug a typewriter, as the Soviets did this to the typewriters used in the American Embassy in Moscow in the 70’s.
The illusion of safety notwithstanding, my brother and I both learned to type on a typewriter, gifted to us by our grandmother who had done a secretarial course back in the day. Granny had long ago decided to make it as a Canteen Lady and had put her typing behind her, so when we happened to come across the machine in her cupboard, she was only too happy to gift it to us.
For those readers who have never had the tactile sensation of pressing down on the keys, to hear the click-clack of the hammers as you punch out your message, please accept my heartfelt sympathies. You may comfort yourself with the fact that when typing on your computer or tablet you haven’t had to adjust the ink ribbon, or liberally apply correcting fluid every time you make a typo instead of just pressing backspace, usually upending half the bottle over your fingertips in the process…
Although Granny’s Olivetti typewriter has gone the way of all things, thanks to the Gods of eBay I replaced it with an identical model two years ago. Given the obvious advantages of using a computer such as spellcheck, Google etc. it may be hard to understand why every now and then I scrabble around in the bottom of my wardrobe, lug out the battered case of my typewriter and begin punching way.
To this end, I’ve decided to put together a few reasons justifying my love affair with the humble typewriter:
No Americanised spell check.
Spell check is an excellent tool for the semi-literate and for those writing in a language other than their native tongue. Unfortunately there are very few applications which will allow you to set the language specifically to British English. As such you can write words like ‘colour’ without being distracted by red squiggly lines. (N.B The free Office Applications OpenOffice and LibreOffice do have versions available in British English only).
Making a mistake when using a typewriter is nowhere near as easy to correct on a computer. You can either 1) apply correcting fluid to your mistake, wait for it to dry then type over it or 2) yank out the sheet you’re working on, put in a new one, type out the corrected line/paragraph, then do a literal cut and paste over the original paper with nail scissors and glue.
Experience will therefore teach you to plan out your writing carefully in advance and to be as concise as possible – the less you say, the less mistakes you’ll make.
This is probably my principal reason for using a typewriter. Typewriters don’t have access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, video games etc. which means there’s much less temptation to take a break to clean up at MineSweeper or to tweet about the ham and cheese toastie you’re enjoying as you pen your writings. Naturally it helps to switch off your cellphone while writing too.
Whether it’s applying for a television licence, joining your local library or applying for a loan, it seems that many companies have not fully entered the 21st Century and require you to fill in pages of forms by hand rather than online.
Using a typewriter to fill in the form not only means you’re completing it in crisp, clear text but because you have to align each section with the hammers, you’re less likely to skip over an important part.
Less Eye Strain
Another excellent reason to favour mechanical devices. All you have to look at is a sheet of paper rather than the glare of a monitor. We have come a long way with LCD monitors and anti-glare devices in recent years but a typewriter doesn’t give out waves of blue light to keep your brain awake – if you really want to be rustic, try typing by candlelight, though be sure to keep the flame well away from the paper!